Why Are the Extended Conversations in Legend of The Galactic Heroes Riveting While Those in Fate/Zero are Coma-Inducing?

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I think I know why. But first, some disclaimers. Not every extended conversation in Legend of the Galactic Heroes is exemplary; some will be guilty of what those in Fate/Zero do. Conversely, there are conversations in Fate/Zero that are remarkable in the ways those in LotGH are. I will note some of them later in the post, but this piece is not about those exceptions.

I like Fate/Zero and welcome its continuation in the Spring season of 2012. I’ve shared the show to quite a number of friends, and one thing is quite obvious: the first episode is a tremendous hurdle because of the scarcity of action and the sheer volume of exposition dumping via extended conversation. I think the show only started picking up when the summoning rituals started (those were awesome, scored well musically too). A number of my friends who I introduced it to simply passed out during the double feature first episode. I had to fight my way through sleepiness myself every time I watched it, and I don’t think I want to subject myself to it anytime soon.

I remember distinctly how Toshaka and his conversant ended up walking in circles just so there’s something, anything can be animated to give some energy to the scene. The effort however, was comical instead of cool.

The narrative itself is a big, wordy thing, where plotting and verbal engagement forms most of the content as opposed to the actual fighting between Magi and Servants. Conversations between Saber and Irisviel… paint dries more entertainingly – unless you’re focusing on their character designs (quasi-fapping). Same thing between Kotomine and Gilgamesh… a horror of boredom (unless you are burning with homolust). But the worst are those with anything to do with Toshaka, just… incredible.

The thing about these conversations are that they all are slow-moving tugboats that are trying to maneuver this supertanker of a plot (laden with so much dependencies on the fantasy elements content) in a tiny harbor. The story itself isn’t big or complex, there’s just so much content that it depends on to move forward. “The magic thingy will activate the fabled doodads that invoke the centuries long history of magical family whose current generation is weakened due to fantasy element X which is exacerbated by the nature of the Noble Phantasm of the servant which was supposed to belong to a different magus anyway.”

“But wait, the daughter of magical family Z isn’t actually human but some kind of golem which allows it to be a magical decoy against the multiple magical creatures of this magical battle for this quasi-religious magical thing which grants wishes of both the human magi who is more than human as well as the magical servant who isn’t human but was once human but some of them may wish they were human again” etc, etc.

Am I exaggerating? Yes. This is intentional, but what it really is a condensed way to create the effect of 17 out of 20 minutes worth of anime episode (multiplied by 13) has.

So what’s so different about those in LotGH?

Well, instead of the dialogue informing us about the plot, the plot informs the direction of the dialogue but the content itself informs us about other things. The sterling examples of dialogue in LotGH are about things. In the 11th episode we find Vice-Admiral Yang Wen-li discoursing with Admiral Greenhill about the turn of events propelling the Free Planets Alliance. Yang juxtaposed the Galactic Empire’s character with that of his own government:

Sometimes I have my doubts. The Empire, with a few nobles ruling the masses, is bad government. The Alliance, with a government chosen by the people, is badly governed. Which one do you think is wrong?

Forgive me. That’s not proper talk for a soldier.

Look at the wealth of goodness this short statement has! It is about things, big things – things that very few people actually talk about, unless they’re pompous undergrads in PoliSci class. This forms the very core theme of the narrative. What government is right for now, and for all time? In addition, Wen-li frames the constraints of the soldier: the willingness to serve the government one is sworn to follow and protect, while expressing one’s opinion despite being at odds with the governments directives.

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Entire episodes can be like this, where there is no action and instead you have conversation after conversation that builds on, exemplifies, or elaborates on this theme. You have nobles choosing to die with or at the hands of the people to stay and face the Alliance invasion force while you have the elected officials ratify war against all good sense because it is an election year. These are actions, results – but arriving to these results is through a lot of telling, not showing. The telling works because I feel I’m in the middle of a riveting conversation across 110 episodes about something big and important.

As I’ve said at the beginning of the post, there are exceptions in Fate/Zero (just as there are equivalent coma-inducing boring dialogue in LotGH). This post is not about these exceptions, but I will mention some from Fate/Zero. The first set consists of those between Rider and Waver. They are always about something; verily, about existence, meaning, results, vitality, and being-in-time. Now that’s actually a lot of things, they’re all related in the context of Waver’s education into an adult – Rider’s invitation for him to come of age. Rider doesn’t use big words too, he IS big, his presence is huge; these lends gravitas and meaning to his simple but grandiose – if comedic, statements to Waver.

The big exception in Fate/Zero is delivered by Rider, yet again. It is his sermon to Saber in the “Banquet of Kings.” The lecture was about the being of a king, the character of a king, about conquering vs. martyrdom and who is worth following. Consistently, Gilgamesh has nothing to offer in this conversation (because he is an insufferable bore). It’s Rider who is the energy of the show and the source of so much of its entertainment value (Kotomine’s and Kiritsugu’s contrast is creepy and boring, and manifests in just a lot of adult angst scenes). He shows, tells, and tells some more; and somehow, overcomes what would seem to be insurmountable barriers all the others fail at breaking through to provide entertaining, if not gripping dialogue for us viewers.

The last time I tried to rewatch LotGH was 2 years ago when I just ended up cherry-picking arcs and episodes. I’m doing a full rewatch in earnest this time and I intend to bring forth more posts like this. In other news, Fate/Zero is returning in a few weeks and I’m excited to see Rider and Waver again, but it’d be awesome if the rest of the cast could be interesting and exciting as well.

About ghostlightning

I entered the anime blogging sphere as a lurker around Spring 2008. We Remember Love is my first anime blog. Click here if this is your first time to visit WRL.
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21 Responses to Why Are the Extended Conversations in Legend of The Galactic Heroes Riveting While Those in Fate/Zero are Coma-Inducing?

  1. Turambar says:

    I feel like the beginnings of Fate/Zero simply crumbles under the weight of its own already well explored and lore. The Fate/Stay Night visual novel presented it over the course of 3 different alternate paths, each contributing to the big picture a bit at a time. By comparison, its condensation into 40 minutes is understandably mind numbing. (Unless you’re enough of a fanboy like me that it kind of just flows by you without any annoyance.)

    • Having done at least a path and a half of the “game” (I had dropped the thing halfway into UBW; it took too much time for the value it gave) the concepts aren’t foreign, but still.

      • what the hell says:

        i couldn’t even finish the thing cuz of the puke-tastic explanations that was given. would’ve been really nice if they just pulled an evangelion rubics cube solution where the unknowner recollects the info given to him, but nooooo. magic blah. magic blah. sperm blah.wait sex what? no stop right there, can’t i just inject blood? NO!! sex = increase in energy = saber does crusader cannon = me facepalm = oh god make it stop! MAKE IT STOP!!!

  2. LunarMoon says:

    Most of the people complaining about the lack of action in Fate/Zero are from a completely different demographic than the hardcore otaku who even know what Legend of the Galactic Heroes is. Fate/Zero is relatively mainstream, so its predictable that it would attract more people who are used to action-packed, mainstream, shonen anime such as Naruto or Bleach than Galactic Heroes. If these same fans saw Serial Experiment Lain, Kino’s Journey, Crest of the Stars, or Haibanei Remnei, they would most likely level the same criticisms towards the dialogue.

    To Turambar: Most people haven’t played the Fate Stay/Night Visual Novel, so I can’t agree with this reasoning.

    • Turambar says:

      You seem to misunderstand my point. I am not saying those that have read Fate/Stay Night are the ones being bored. Those that have, such as me, got through that without issue. It was treading ground familiar to us. But for someone approaching it with no previous knowledge (the audience such a heavy initial setting setup was directed to in the first place), it is incredibly jargon filled to the point of boredom.

    • I am not hardcore otaku who “play” VNs or is some Type Moon fanboy.

      However, I appreciate action in my anime in a particular way. Action is where the “sakuga” in anime happens and therefore the locus of value in an anime work. There are many media to deliver a narrative, but to choose animation, one must provide animation. It takes a truly interesting story such as LotGH and Crest of the Stars to overcome their prohibitive lack of sakuga despite being OVAs.

      Kino’s Journey suffers the most — making its title “Ugly and Beautiful World” laughable because when you watch it, everything is just plain ugly.

      Fate/Zero has some okay moments in terms of action and combat, which prevents it from becoming a total disaster. It also succeeds in delivering dread and suspense when it comes to the battles between Kiritsugu and El-Melloi, not to mention Kotomine’s stalking. But yes, when it’s not doing these (and showing Rider and Waver), the show drags mightily.

  3. MarigoldRan says:

    LoL. Lain. It would have been better with more creepiness, and less philosophy. Maybe someone one day will remake it as a HORROR show.

    The talk in Fate/Zero was ok. Of course that could be because I was listening to Rammstein in the background while reading the subtitles.

    • Too bad I appreciate horror in anime the least. So I think I’ll be okay not watching Lain at all.

      • rollover says:

        Lain isn’t horrifying, the implications and the mystery is. Lain is more about philosophy.

        And Marigold watches Lain for the horror? For shame.

        • MarigoldRan says:

          Point is: it would have been better with less philosophy and more horror. They could have done a lot with that. The atmosphere, the suicides, the amnesia: perfect for a horror show. If people want philosophy they can read a book.

          • rollover says:

            On this point I would disagree with you, but frankly its all a matter of taste and thus let’s drop the matter.

  4. fadeway says:

    “The magic thingy will activate the fabled doodads that invoke the centuries long history of magical family whose current generation is weakened due to fantasy element X which is exacerbated by the nature of the Noble Phantasm of the servant which was supposed to belong to a different magus anyway.”

    I’ve always enjoyed F/Z dialogue, even the double exposition episode. The only time I ever came close to being bored at a conversation was around the middle of that very double episode, mostly because I was already well acquainted with everything they were talking about, and then came the hilarious walking scene, which easily got me back on track. I especially enjoy the Gil/Kotomine conversations, since they lead to a major plot point in F/SN, and pay enough attention to them to sometimes watch them a second time. But then, the above quote of yours is exactly why I love the Fate franchise and Nasu works in general.

  5. megaroad1 says:

    I didn’t think dialogue in FZ was too bad (o.k I’ll give you Tohsaka!). However the series is clearly at its best with its amazing battle sequences and historical references. Looking forward to it’s second part.

    When I read the title of this post of yours, Ghost in the Shell Innocence immediately came to mind. Mamoru Oshii really took convoluted dialogue to next level. The amount of aphorisms, quotations and philosophical deliberations in the dialogue pretty much rules out enjoyment from a casual viewer. Only hardcore sci-fi fans or philosophy majors needed apply.

  6. Rakuen says:

    One thing I’d like to experience Fate/Zero (if I’m sating this right) would be through an agent like a novel or anything of the sort. The wordiness of the show itself seemed peculiar to me too, given that we’re expecting people to go “Fuck it, die by the blade of my sword” or simply “Die” and then they commence into battling (lengthily), a few talks through the battle, then a finishing blow after the hero has proven his point. But truly, I’ve no qualms with the novel-like narration through dialogue. It’s something I enjoy which was recently rekindled when I watched Game of Thrones (the HBO original series) after reading the first 3 books. The characters converse lengthily, and the fight last only for a few minutes, sex happens in only a few seconds (which they conveniently use as pseudo-plot devises). But through these cumbersome conversations the lore and the world is shaped, rather beautifully. I haven’t gone about into watching the latter half of the first season of Fate/Zero.

    This I think plays rather nicely with F/Z too, because let’s face it, even if they’re heroes, it only takes little time to kill a man, but it takes copious time to make him realize something. Which is why I’m looking forward to watch the Banquet of Kings episode. If you would read “The Once and Future King” by T.H. White, it took about a third of the book for Merlin to educate Arthur in his childhood about beauty, governance, right and wrong, and might. And it only took 1/20 of the book to show Arthur’s tragedy and death.

    That said, I can’t wait for some extra time to watch the episodes 7-12 in a lump-some. Surely I’ll enjoy it.

    • Fen says:

      Well, Fate/Zero is based off a light novel after all. :) The anime is following the novel almost 100% so far.

    • But the dialogue in GoT is riveting in that there’s a lot of wit in them, a lot of one-upmanship in the exchanges. Does this happen in anime too? Yes, it does in Katanagatari, in 12 Kingdoms, and Crest/Banner of the Stars to name a few. Fate/Zero doesn’t have this, partly because the characters do not have charm (with obvious exceptions, and/or if by charm you mean fappable).

  7. rxsiu says:

    As someone who read the F/Z novels recently to fill the void of the gap between S1 and S2, I have to say, the novels do an amazing job at setting up scenes and character building, in a way that the anime just doesn’t have the time to do. It was super wordy, delved into the consciousness of every character, and built them with more than just dialogue. The tone and mood of several scenes were set up so superbly that I can still see it in my mind. I’m not that big on Type-Moon or Nasu, but I don’t think I dislike any character in F/Z because they were all built so well in the novel. Urobochi Gen did a great job with F/Z; I was hard pressed to put down the books. He easily outdid Nasu in the F/SN VN. Which, like you, I could only sit through one and a half routes because it took more time than I thought it was worth. Go to baka-tsuki and get the F/Z novels if you want to love F/Z and have the time to read 4 light novels.

    TL;DR, F/Z was amazing (thanks to the experience the novels gave me), and I can’t wait for S2 to arrive and supplement what I got from the novels.

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